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Applegate author Paul Fattig on wilderness, relatives and WWI

Paul Fattig is a retired journalist, author of two non-fiction books, and a military veteran. The story of his uncle Charlie and uncle Alfred is a story of the survival of two brothers with differing perspectives on life.

“They were two very strange characters,” Fattig says during a telephone interview. Characters who, 100 years ago, spent three years hiding in the rugged area now known as the Kalmiopsis Wilderness.

Fattig tells their story in “Wilderness Survival: One Hundred Years Ago,” a free presentation from noon to 1 p.m. Wednesdays, Feb. 6 at the Medford library and Feb. 13 at the Ashland library.

“My grandparents were members of the Church of the Brethren, otherwise known as Dunkards,” Fattig recounts, the Dunkards being a conservative off-shoot of Protestantism that originated in Germany. “They were pretty hard line when it came to their beliefs, one of which was that people ought not to be killing each other.”

This may have been one of the few beliefs Fattig’s uncles shared.

“One of my uncles,” he continues, “was a very staunch religious person who followed the beliefs of his parents. The other was an atheist. They didn’t get along. They didn’t like each other. They would get into arguments about whether or not there was a god.”

As the U.S. entered World War I in April of 1917, a time when patriotism was encouraged, Alfred and Charlie headed to the mountains of southwestern Oregon to evade the draft. In a spring 2018 radio interview Fattig explains why.

The brothers were raised on their parents’ homestead in the Applegate Valley.

“They were both uneducated. My uncle Charlie had never gone to school, ever. Uncle Alfred had gone to school for maybe three to four months out in Ruch. Because they had no formal education, they didn’t know how to formally express their opposition to war in a way that would get them conscientious objector status. So instead, they just fled into the mountains.”

Although hunting skills they had learned helped fill their stomachs while on the lam, their differing views undoubtedly contributed to the tensions of dealing with the harsh environment many describe as one of the roughest in the contiguous U.S. They eventually gave themselves up and were sent to jail.

Fattig points out that he and his brothers are Marine Corps veterans and did not follow in the footsteps of their uncles. But he believes it is important to tell their story.

“We ought to know our history,” he says. “Regardless of whether you support going to war or not, knowing history helps us make decisions. If we know something happened as a result of something else, we might think twice about what we do.”

In 1987, Fattig and a brother interviewed their uncle Alfred shortly before he died.

“I kept reams of notes and all kinds of stuff. I knew that some time I would write a book,” says Fattig.

Over the next 30 years the story of his uncles hovered in the background as he engaged in a journalism career.

“When I was a journalist, I went out of my way to interview every World War I vet I could find,” he says. “I wanted to have some insights into the war. I interviewed a lot of guys from Southern Oregon. A couple of them knew my uncles.”

The interviews provided a context to his uncles’ experiences, and contributed to Fattig’s 2018 book, “Madstone: The True Tale of World War I Conscientious Objectors Alfred and Charlie Fattig and Their Oregon Wilderness Hideout.”

Fattig’s library lectures draw on this and related stories, and are part of the Southern Oregon Historical Society and Jackson County Librarys’ Windows in Time series.

The series was established more than 10 years ago to disseminate the results of original research that would allow the public to see the kinds of things that contributed to defining today’s community. According to Society information, “The series features well-known writers and historians and brings to life the people, values, and events that shaped our Southern Oregon heritage.”

It is presented throughout the year, noon to 1 p.m. the first Wednesday of the month at the Medford library, 205 S. Central Ave., and the second Wednesday at the Ashland library, 410 Siskiyou Blvd. Topics of future presentations range from natural disasters in the Rogue Valley to Chinook salmon migrations, dams of the Upper Rogue, Southern Oregon during World War II, and important people and places. Find the complete schedule and details at sohs.org/event-list and jcls.org/programs/wit, or by calling 541-774-8679 or 541-773-6536.

“This region is so rich in history,” says Larry Mullaly, a volunteer on the series’ organizing committee. “There is a thirst for information about this history, and people want to celebrate it.”

The Windows in Time series and Fattig’s lecture address this thirst.

Author Paul Fattig discusses his 2018 novel "Madstone: The True Tale of World War I Conscientious Objectors Alfred and Charlie Fattig and Their Oregon Wilderness Hideout” at Barnes & Noble Booksellers in Medford. Photo by Drew Fleming